From Lucille Sider: ‘You are not alone.’

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Letters to America

Author of ‘Light Shines in the Darkness’

Dear Friends,

You are not alone.

In four words, that is my message today—and it is such an important truth for all of us to accept and embrace.

A lot of people I know are truly struggling. For the first time in their lives, they wake up with depression—mild though it may be for many people. We’ve been living with this pandemic for a long time already and we have many, many months to go. We’re realizing that we will never return to life as we have known it—and that is very frightening.

Living in the pandemic is truly exhausting, because we have to continually make decisions about how we should respond.
Dare we meet a friend for lunch?
Must we sit outside even though the weather may not cooperate with our plans?
What about the children we have not seen—for months now? We missed their birthday parties and we just want to take them out for ice-cream as we have always done.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

And our beloved seniors are so vulnerable whether in their own homes or in a retirement home. We notice that some are quite depressed and we’re trying to do our part in reaching out to them.

We find ourselves struggling with depression as well. We just feel exhausted even though we are not doing much. We’re trying to do our exercises or walk faithfully but we get no pleasure out of it. We’re reading but are having trouble focusing. We’re sick of watching TV.

And oh—we miss the chance to worship with our congregations. We miss that so much! We miss singing. We miss passing the peace and touching base with all those dear folks. Many of us miss communion—going forward and receiving the bread and wine. We long for “coffee hour,” the time to catch up with friends and to reach out to newcomers or chat with the children who are all growing like perfect little weeds.

Our pastors have brilliantly devised ways to keep us all in touch. We’re so grateful, but we are tired of all the distance and limitations. Zoom, which seemed so magical at first, is so limiting.

And there is one more very serious concern I have and that is about sexual abuse. You may have heard that during this time of isolation in our homes sexual abuse is increasing. Victims are often stuck in their homes with abusers. They do not have the usual outside contacts to report the abuse. They seldom see teachers, doctors or clergy.

Dear friends, if you know of a situation where sexual abuse is occurring—please reach out. You can contact a clergyperson, a teacher, social worker, doctor or trusted neighbor. Or you can contact RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). RAINN ) RAINN works with 1,000 sexual assault providers across the nation. Their number is 800-656-HOPE.

You can reach out to me, if you would like me to make a Zoom appearance to talk with your small group or circle of friends about the wisdom I’ve tried to share in my book Light Shines in the Darkness. I am available as we have said before in this online magazine. Just email [email protected]

I wrote this letter today to remind all of you: Wherever you are and whatever you are facing—there is HOPE.

You are not alone.

Blessings to you.


From Larry Buxton: ‘A better way to win’

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Letters to America

Author of ‘30 Days with King David on Leadership

Dear Friends,

This autumn, how often do you find yourself asking this question: How will this battle end?

I came across a true story recently that moved me deeply. I kept thinking about it. Finally, I realized that it truly is a parable for our day—a parable I like to call: ‘A Better Way to Win.’

You can watch the video right here:

Or, please visit my website …

Did you find that video letter helpful? Want more? Every week, I’m posting another very short video meditation based on lessons from my book 30 Days with King David on Leadership. If you go to my website you can enter your email address and get a link to a new video letter like this from me each week. (Don’t worry, we follow best practices and you can cancel the weekly email anytime.)

Want the text of this video letter?

‘A Better Way to Win’

Sometimes, visitors to my website ask me for a text they can read or save or quote or share with a friend. In case you’d like this video letter in text form, here it is …

Two marathoners were matching each other, stride for stride, mile for mile. For hours they pounded the gray streets in rhythm, each man hoping to be crowned the winner of the first-ever London Marathon.

As the miles went on, one runner would attempt a surge—and fail. Then the other one would try to pull ahead—and fail. Nothing worked. Neither runner could shake the other. How would this battle end?

As the two men pass the 26-mile marker, the commentator is heard saying, “Someone must take the race.”

But which one? They’re down to the last 300 yards, gasping and straining. We hold our breaths.

Suddenly one runner puts a hand out. The other takes it. No words are exchanged. In shared exertion they join hands and cross the finish line together. Dick Beardsley of the U.S and Inge Simonsen of Norway finished as the first co-winners of the 1981 London Marathon.

How automatically we assume that winning must be a zero sum game: If someone wins, someone else has to lose. We assume this is the purpose of competition. But the goal of competition is not necessarily winning, Competition is our straining for excellence in the presence of others. It’s pounding out stamina, chasing down resilience, pursuing strength and gasping for courage.

Beardsley and Simonsen were equally great competitors.

I find the mysterious Spirit here in two moments. The first is Dick’s and Inge’s implicit realization that competition doesn’t require a loser. Everyone’s assumption echoed the announcer’s intoning, “Someone must take the race.” But Spirit—however we define Spirit—reframes this contest in their minds and substitutes a win-win model.

Neither suggests it. Neither one floats the possibility for them to discuss along the route. But somewhere they each see it, a different way to win, and that new image or new possibility begins to inspire their race.

Then comes the mysterious moment. Neither one speaks. They don’t even look at each other. Each man reaches out his hand. At the same time.

In their simultaneous clasping hands, Beardsley and Simonsen each surrender, in a sense. Each one surrenders his hope to stand alone on the winner’s podium. But their shared surrender makes for a shared victory. Theirs was concession and triumph at the same time.

That’s a basic conversion theme for Christians and alcoholics and lots of others of us: Surrender leads to victory. When we surrender ourselves and our individual dreams of glory, we discover a much greater victory: Sobriety. Salvation. Honor. Self-respect. Character. Love.

Our political leaders need to embrace this story. So do we in squabbling marriages, antagonistic organizations, conflicted congregations, argumentative families, and bickering boardrooms. We might watch for that glimpse – listen for that whisper – and welcome a more selfless way to lead.

I hope you see it – or hear it – or reframe it yourself. And then, reach out! Risk an offered hand. In the days ahead – Let the Spirit move within you. Our entire nation needs it, now more than ever.

Yours in faith,


Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

From Duncan Newcomer: ‘Do we need another Lincoln?’

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Letters to America

Author of ‘30 Days with Abraham Lincoln


Have you noticed, this autumn, that there is a lot of talk about how we need another Lincoln? Wherever you turn in major magazines and newspapers and even on air, these days, we keep hearing this question: Whose Lincoln do we want and need right now?

There’s a good reason this question keeps arising in each new season of our nation’s history: There’s a lot of Lincoln available!

Paradox is his most noteworthy psychological and philosophical characteristic. Lincoln seems to have values and virtues on one side of the tracks and then values and virtues on the other.

He was a great joking extrovert, he was a silent somber introvert.

He was big and ugly, he was sweet and beautiful.

He was a warrior king, he was a man of peace.

So recently in The New Yorker you could read about a Common Man Lincoln who knew how to love and mix it up with the vulgar circus of humanity. The Atlantic weighed in as well.

There was an Old Sage Lincoln who knew how to speak to tragedy from the Bardo of his own grief. (And George Saunders’ Bardo novel went on to win the Man Booker Prize.)

There was a political Glad Hand and Iron Fist Lincoln who knew how to bring people together for the common good in politically shrewd ways.

Then there is the Yonder Lincoln, whose spiritual life infused all of the above versions.

Or consider the Circus Jokester Lincoln who once hosted Little Tom Thumb as a White House guest and regarded this wee gentleman as a marvel of equal humanity while fully one-half his own size.

To the Lincoln in the Bardo of death his grief for his son defines the god-send from Scripture, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

To the Hand and Fist political Warrior King, Lincoln was also the mythological Grail King, the one who communed with the Holy Grail of the Sacred Feminine, giving the Kingdom its true greatness, which, of course, would be its goodness.

So many questions about Lincoln! We never seem to tire of puzzling over the paradox.

Please, this fall and winter, I hope you will continue to enjoy my own weekly Quiet Fire reflections on Lincoln. Feel free to share with me your own thoughts via [email protected]

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From Michael T. McRay: ‘The stories that might help save us’

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Letters to America

EDITOR’s NOTE: The fourth letter in our series this week is a text from the opening pages of Michael T. McRay’s remarkable and inspiring new book, I Am Not Your Enemy. While reading Michael’s book—then interviewing him about the global story-collecting project behind this book—it became obvious that there were many parallels between Michael’s work and our own 10 Principles that we posted online in 2007, when our publishing house was founded. So, we are sharing this “letter” from Michael (from his book’s Introduction) as an invitation for our readers to learn more about Michael’s important and innovative work. You can do that right now by visiting his website and by ordering a copy of his book.


Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Author of ‘I Am Not Your Enemy

I believe that some of the highest goals of storytelling, of crafting narratives about our lives, should be cultivating empathy and telling the truth in service of reconciling relationships.

Stories are powerful, muscular devices. Storytelling can transform us, whether toward better or worse versions of ourselves. The stories we tell and the ones we listen to change us all the time, in large and little ways, and we’d do well to consider carefully which stories win our attention.

We are wise to consider carefully how we might learn to live together well with those we find difficult. It’s no great feat to enjoy living next to people you enjoy. That doesn’t make for peace. What makes for peace is the capacity to live with difference in such a way that bears fruit rather than arms. Difference and disagreement are guaranteed for human relationships. More often than not, it’s how we deal with difference, rather than being different, that determines our potential to be peaceable.

There’s an old Irish saying: Ar scath a cheile a mhaireas na daoine. Irish poet and theologian Padraig O Tuama says one could translate it as “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Another way is: “It is in the shadow of each other that the people live.” There’s wisdom in those twists, not the least of which being that they tell us we can choose how we live together. Will we give shelter and welcome to each other, or will we let our shadows blot each other out? The stories we tell are part of how we make that choice.

The stories we tell either help us or harm us. No narrative is neutral. The ones that help are usually ones that tell bold truths about our world, even painful ones, because we always need to face the truth with courage if we’re to heal and grow. The ones that hurt are usually ones that distort truths—maybe to protect power, or dehumanize, or tempt us to weaponize our fear. We humans tend to do our worst when we’re afraid. Fear leads to hatred and hatred leads to violence and violence leads to fear, which leads to hatred, which leads to violence. If we don’t address this deadly cycle, it can loop forever.

The stories that might save us from this are stories that open us toward a fuller embrace of the world. These stories must, therefore, tell the truth. And part of the truth is that the world is full of violence, bereavements and terrors that will terrorize even our dreams.

And yet the agony of the world isn’t the truth of the world; it’s only part of the truth. Another part of he truth is that the world is full of beauty, friendship and healing. The earth is populated with powerful stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, of inconceivable reconciliation, of faith and hope and love. Yet for some reason, we seem uninterested in these stories or are unwilling or unable to give them a platform. It seems that horror sells better than hope.

We have to do better. The stories we tell inform the breadth of our imaginations. Stories can help foster creative and prophetic imagination; they help us find order and meaning within chaos, help us get our bearings when we feel lost. And stories can also foster bigotry, prejudice, and narrow-mindedness when told without wisdom.

Wise stories, however, are those that know that sometimes someone else might tell it differently. Wise stories know there is never one villain and never one hero. Wise stories know that sometimes, maybe even most times, people can be both. Wise stories know that if you describe characters as demonic, listeners will likely long for their destruction rather than redemption. Wise stories know that the wisest stories are not told by people in power.

Wise stories are ones that help us face the truth around us and name it for what it is. Throughout Padraig O Tuama’s book, In the Shelter, he offers the simple tool of naming the truths around us and saying hello to them. Rather than pushing them away or pretending they aren’t there or have no power, he encourages us to acknowledge them. Greet them. Say hello. See what we might learn from the situations and the strangers we did not choose—or at least did not know to name. I use this all the time now in my life as a way of acknowledging often unacknowledged truths, as a way of becoming familiar and maybe even friendly with what can be frightening.

Because sometimes, simply saying hello might be part of what helps us.

This brief excerpt is from Michael’s much longer, prophetic Introduction to his new book. The entire Introduction reads like an open letter to all of us to recognize the peacebuilding potential in sharing wise and true stories.


From Rabbi Bob Alper: ‘And, I’ll take a side of laughter with that, too, please.’

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Letters to America


One way I’ve tried to fight the effects of this pandemic is to send out daily Quick Laugh videos. I started in late March. To create the clips for these daily emails, I edited video of some 90 original bits and jokes from my standup comedy act. I figured that after I posted all of these short clips, things surely would have returned to some semblance of normal.

Wrong! So, I repeated all 90. And, 180 days into the series, we’re still housebound.

Then, I heard that my fellow Vermonter and cartoonist Harry Bliss had collaborated with Steve Martin—yes, that Steve Martin—on a book of cartoons, A Wealth of PigeonsOf course, I know Martin. For years, I appeared on stage in my stand-up comedy act with him.

Well, at least I appeared on stage with a blow-up photo of him to show how much we’re alike.

Turns out, we both also love cartoons—and neither of us can draw.

Years ago, I beat him to the punch on this collaborative idea. I created A Rabbi Confesses, collaborating with the sensational cartoonist, the late Jack Lindstrom.

So, now that I’ve run—and rerun—all my Quick Laugh videos, I’m going to start sharing daily cartoons from that collection with my email subscribers.

If you haven’t already signed up for my Quick Laugh emails—go to my website and sign up in the box right there on the front page. You’ll start getting daily cartoons.

That is, until I run out of those.

Then? I’ll repeat the videos again. The fact is, I laugh each time I see them, even after performing the material hundreds of times. So I hope you, too, will experience some tension-relieving laughter when seeing an “old friend” piece of comedy rather than a brand new item.

So, if you’re just discovering this offer, this week: Hey, you’ve got 50 cartoons and 90 videos coming your way.

And that’s some something to look forward to each morning, isn’t it?





VISIT BOB’S WEBSITE where you can check out his upcoming appearances as well as his various books, two CDs and his DVD.

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